Last Days in Hong Kong
Okay, the trip has ended. Sad to leave Asia and happy to come home - just where one wants to be mind-wise. A good trip. I'm very tired and a little disoriented from jet lag, so it will be a few days before I'm back in the saddle.
Last time through Bangkok mostly just relaxing and eating more curry, more tom kha, more shakes.
We ended up in Hong Kong as a kind of decompression place before heading home. Since my first time there in 1966 or 67 on R&R from Vietnam, Hong Kong has been one of my favorite places in the world. Happy am I to be on the streets
again, riding the Star Ferry again, eating BBQ duck again ...
We stayed at the Cosmic Guesthouse again (small room, air-con, windo
w, good value for HK). While we were in SE Asia the Cosmic opened a new section and we stayed there. As before, the room was just big enough for three single beds in an upside down U with an 18 inch passage between the two legs of the U (see photo at Worldisround). N
ew AC and an amazing complex shower with more features than I have ever seen. Room immaculate. Jeff and David spent a fair amount of time reading and sleeping and I was on the streets the entire time. I took the subway to somewhere and was completely lost in north HK. Finally found a bus that took me to Mongkok and then I was found. Rode the Star Ferry several times a day - just riding back and forth to the island and then back to Kowloon.
On what I thought was probably the last Star Ferry ride of my life I'm staring across the harbor, feeling the engines throbbing under the deck, feeling nostalgic ... a little girl, maybe 4 or 5 years old, sitting right behind me in her Dad's lap - starts singing over and over again, first in English and then in Chinese ..."Row row row your boat,
Gently down the stream.
Merrily merrily merrily,
Life is but a dream."
Another grace note for the trip.
On the last day David and I went to Big John's cafe on either Lock or Han
kow Road, parallel to Nathan Road. Big John's is a small place serving Chinese and western foods - including salads that seem safe. Always good vibes in Big John's. This last time the music included the song from long ago ...
"Those were the days my friend,
We thought they'd never end,
We'd sing and dance forever and a day.
We'd live the life we'd choose,
We'd fight and never lose,
Those were the days,
Oh yes, those were the days."
Of course I'm thinking of Leslie - talk about nostalgic - yet thinking, yeah, that's pretty much how it's turning out.
Rode that big 747 to Taipei, on to LA, and then Dallas. Home.
More photos at my worldisround.com homepage.
What follows is a summary of the trip, focused mostly on practicalities. After Cambodia and Vietnam, rest of trip just kind of taking it easy - like a vacation. Here is how the trip went:
- Charles Kemp, 60 years old, Vietnam combat veteran, nurse practitioner, faculty at Baylor, author, and keeper of this travelogue.
- David Kemp, my son, 20 years old, student at Rice University, musician, and all around good guy - I mean, good grief, he spent two months traveling gracefully with two old men.
- Jeff Wiseman, 59 years old, Vietnam comb
Thorntree forum: FAQs for Southeast Asia
Food (first things first) - yeah, it always does come down to food - and what better place for food than SE Asia?
Everywhere: Rice, rice and more rice, never a bad serving
- Macao-style curry in the Macau restaurant in HK, so spicy the sweat is just pouring off my head - More! Give me More! WooHoo!
- Indian food in Chungking Mansion, chicken Madras, vindaloo, kofti, jlfrezi, samosas, mango lassi (sorry about spelling)
- Ka Ka Lok egg and ham sandwich for old times sake - Leslie, it is as good as ever
- Breakfast place dim sum (see photo in HK)
- BBQ duck with rice at people's restaurant in northern HK - The Best, and very cheap
- Street satay - better than Bangkok - near Women's Mkt
- Mango drinks on the corner Photo below is in Bangkok - anything with rice is ~ $1 USD
- Tom kha, coconut milk-based sour spicy Thai soup with chicken or shrimp
- Satay, in Hong Kong, Thailand, and Cambodia - Thai and HK best
- Pad Thai, fried Thai noodles - Khao San Road street pad Thai takes the prize for 20 baht/serving
- Shakes, oh man, mango, banana, pineapple, coconut - everything in any combo and ice cold! Cost around $.50-.60. KSR street guy ties with big market lady and Zoom Cafe in Saigon. Mango drink in HK was good until compared with Thai and VN. White Rose shakes in Battambang excellent.
- Red curry, green curry at family place in Bangkok. Everything was good but it was life-threatening to get there (crossing a HUGE street - yikes!)
- Pad si ew, thick noodles with vegetable fried with oyster sauce. Photo below: The shake man on Soi Buttri in KSR area.
Cambodia (mostly about the White Rose Restaurant in Battambang - Oh Battambang, oh Battambang, I long to see you ...)
- Curry chicken (red) with noodles or same curry with bread at breakfast. Best curry award
- Shakes - they would be good anywhere, and in the context of Cambodia, great
- Fruit plate (we're still at the White Rose), durian, dragon fruit, longan, jackfruit, pineapple, rambutan, banana, apple
- fried rice with lots of ginger
- Banana pancake, ok in Phnom Penh, great in Hoi An
- Omelet with bread
- Amok curry at Two Dragons Guesthouse - fish, nuts, coconut - very good, though a little expensive at $3 USD
- Laarb - Thai salad at Two Dragons, again, good, if a little expensive
- Cafe sua da, french roast coffee slow-dripped onto sweet condensed milk served with ice. I'm having about 2/day. Jeff had one and broke into a sweat and hypo-tachycardia. WooHoo!
- Pho, good in Saigon, okay in Hoi An, best at Duy Tan in Dallas, Texas
- Rice plate with Pork, Oh pig, oh pig, what great pig-cooking (charcoal) they do in VN! Best on street in Saigon. Number 1! Photo below: $.50 rice with pork and cold fried egg.
- Bun Thit Nuong, charcoal pork on cool noodles with vegetables. Best in big market in Saigon
- Shakes, more shakes - lady in big market in Saigon makes them ice-cold, with mango and yaoert (yogurt) - another Best Award
- Banana pancakes at Thanh Xuan Hotel in Hoi An - The Best, like a giant ba
- Indian food in Hoi An at Omar's - prawn korma, salfejez, raita, samosas - David went again and said not as good second time around
- White rose, shrimp in steamed dumpling, specialty of Hoi An
- Cau lau, noodle dish specialty of Hoi An - maso menos
- Fried wonton with vegetables on tiop, another Hoi An specialty, pretty good
- Fried crab, shrimp with lots of garlic - on beach Hoi An - served with lemon juice mixed with lots of black pepper, salt. Good, cheap (about $2)
- Train porridge, breakfast is served on the train - rice porridge, with a little meat and some onion - great in the train context
- Toasted ham and cheese sandwich with fries in Hue. Add a Pepsi. Oh yeah
- Shrimp with chilis and lemon grass at the Zoom Cafe in Saigon ($2). Best meal award; good ambience, too.
- Orange soda in down home cafe in Thuy Bo 3 - formerly "Dodge City" Jeff and I sat with an old fighter, I guess VC, since nobody in Thuy Bo was not VC. Good times. Had me many an orange soda in SEA. In Philippines in 1966 we traded ammo for orange sodas and knives. Hmmmm. Photo: Street restaurant in Hue. Remember the story about falling/sprawling on my back onto sidewalk in Battambang? These are the sort of stools they had there.
Flew China Air from Dallas to Hong Kong and later on to Bangkok; then back to HK, Taipei, and LA.
Bus from HK airport is $33 HKD (aprox $4 USD). Very easy. Stops right before Mirador and Chungking Mansions.
Bus from Bangkok airport to Khao San Road is $100 baht/person. Metered taxi is about $200 baht + $60 baht toll fees. Our taxi KSR to airport got up to around 95 mph. Yikes! Backpacker buses available for 90 baht from guesthouses, but taxi or airport bus better value and more reliable.
Backpacker bus from Bangkok to Poipet, then taxi to Battambang.
Motos around Battambang (except for bamboo train) and Siem Reap (Angkor Wat). Took tuk-tuk to Angkor. From Battambang took boat (photo below) to Tonle Sap and across top of lake to landing near Siem Reap. We were told that boat in this direction much less crowded than boat from Siem Reap to Battambang or Phnom Penh (which was very helpful, since boat not very comfortable).
One hour drive from landing to Siem Reap takes worst road prize - worse than out of Poipet.
Same type bus Siem Reap to Phnom Penh and also to Vietnam (a
rranged by Narin GH in Phnom Penh) to Cambodian-Vietnam border, then distinctly better bus from border into Saigon and Happy Tours office at 139 Bui Vien Street in heart of Pham Ngu Lao area where most budget travelers stay.
Happy Tours arranged for train (soft sleeper or 4 bunks in a compartment -which is clearly the way to go) to Danang for $30-something dollars.
Took taxi from Danang train station to Hoi An for $8 USD. Motos to where we
fought in VN. Bikes around Hoi An. Train back to Saigon. Bus to Phnom Penh. Plane to Bangkok, Chiang Mai (bus to Burma), and back to Bangkok.
It turned out to be a very good idea to take buses and trains early in the trip when we were stronger and fly later in the trip when we were tired.
Transportation included 747, airbus, other planes; backpacker bus, tourist bus, people's bus; motorcycle and bicycle; train; bambooo train; boat; ferry; tuk-tuk; cyclo; taxi; walking. Photo: Moto Girl
We took Rough Guide to Thailand, Lonely Planet SE Asia Guide, SE Asia - the Graphic Guide by Mark Elliott, printouts of info pasted from Thorn Tree (Lonely Planet website), and printouts from Tales of Asia website. Lonely Planet book and Thorntree/Tales of Asia printouts were most helpful to us. Every imaginable guidebook is available for a couple of dollars or less in KSR area.
Healthons for SE Asia travel), which proves nothing. Had one or more of us gotten sick, however, we would have been mighty happy to have the medicine.
Equipment & Related
I started with a duffle bag and replace
d it in HK with a $12 backpack which was damaged when bus guy in Cambodia rammed it through an open window of the bus. There also were some seams starting to rip. In Saigon on street off Bui Vien Street in Pham Ngu Lao area I bought a very nice backpack (well-known brand - seems to really be that brand) for $30 USD which stood up perfectly to rest of trip. Some backpackers believe any pack >50 liters capacity is too big. Mine is 75 liters and I filled it and then some. Different sizes for different people. In Saigon we also bought a semi-hard sided rolling suitcase for the items we were accumulating and planned to get when back in Phnom Penh. Photo: From porch of top floor Angkor Hotel in Battambang
Overall I took a little too much of this and not quite enough of that. In the traveler's centers just about everything is available now - there is not even a shortage of toilet paper (or bidets). In retrospect I would not have brought two pair of shoes (if monsoon had been heavy I would have needed them though). I'm glad I did not wear sandals (part of the backpacker uniform) as we saw many people with foot and toe injuries related, I expect, to wearing sandals everywhere. No, my feet were not hot and no, they did not smell. In my work back in The World I get closer to more feet than most people (except podiatrists and diabetes specialists) and guess what - people wearing sandals ten
d to have smellier feet than those who wear shoes and socks.
Traffic in SE Asia
Hong Kong: very controlled and easy to navigate.
Bangkok: it's just plain horrible and the drivers behave abominably - truly an ugly, nasty scene with no redeeming qualities that I could see. Pollution is terrible. Vile in all respects. We saw many cool dude foreigners (so they seemed to think) around KSR who tried to drive a rented moto - in sandals! Not too bright. Pretty bad road wounds legs and shoulders; toes wrecked; lots of leg burns. I was young and goofy once, too, so more power to you guys.
Vietnam: the traffic is intriguing and ma
nageable - though a foreigner would be stretched to try to drive in it. Usual speed around 25 mph. Hoi an and Hue less hectic than Saigon - Saigon seems to actually have a few rules. In all cases, the critical thing is that nobody seems to have any ego involved in their driving - like nobody seems to be trying to win. They yield when needed and don't when not. Not once have we seen anyone get angry or aggressive when driving. Oops, now we have, see below. Photo: Girl on moto in Saigon. The sleeves and gloves are to protect from the sun (light skin valued) and the thing over her face is to protect from sun and dust.
- When walking across the street, find small opening in 1st lane (no big openings) and walk at steady pace across and through traffic. When reach the middle of the street, look the other way into oncoming traffic and start on over. NEVER hesitate or back up. People are already accomodating the walker and a change in the walker's plans can create confusion.
- Up to five people riding moto; up to three people on bicycle. When two people on bicycle, the person in back often helps peddle. Women passengers ride side saddle or straddle on motos and bikes. Many women driving motos - slightly more sedately than men.
- Bigger vehicle always has the right of way: buses #1, trucks #2, cars #3, motos #4, bikes #6, pedestrians # 7 - EXCEPT, that the larger vehicles seldom really threaten smaller or pedestrians. However, best for me (as a passenger) to not watch. I can't take it.
- People usually, but not always ride on right side of street, except that when turning left on moto or bike, they sometimes turn into the right lane (oncoming traffic) and drive alongside the curb until they can merge across traffic into their lane. When riding a bike, one should not ride all the way next to curb because of these against the grain folk.
- Rather than slow down (or pay a whit of attention to the few traffic lights - exception being in Saigon) when going into an intersection, people just beep and sail on through. People crossing from side just accomodate. We sat for a long time on a corner in Hue watching this and the degree of cooperation and accomodation was marvelous to see. Photo: Girl on bus
A few hours after I wrote the preceding, Dave and I were sitting in his favorite pho shop having breakfast when a moto hit a shoeshine guy. The moto driver stopped long enough to curse the shoeshine guy and drove off. Shoeshiner staggers to curb and sits down. A woman from a store, Thuy's on Bui Vien Street, came out and put some salve on the shoeshiner's scrape. A few minutes later she closed her store (Viet version of susto, maybe?). Another shoeshine guy came along and they walked off together.
Later that day I saw the man again and asked him to shine my shoes. Paid double and patted him a little. Still later I was out looking for ways to spend a few hundred thousand dong. Couldn't find any souvenirs and after about 30 minutes ended up at - yep - Thuy's, where I bought some granola bars for the trip and some new deoderant. I asked her about the accident and she told me that the situation was upsetting to her. "Ït make me mad. Everybody (including, I guess, a shoeshine guy) is the just the same." I gave her a blessing and there we were again. Another little grace.
Means of transpo we've used: Plane (747B and Airbus), bus (people's and backpacker), taxi, moto, tuk-tuk, bicycle, xyclo, bamboo train, boat, and walking. Does swimming count?
Hong Kong Summary
Stayed at the Cosmic Guesthouse in Mirador Mansion in Tsim Sha Tsui. Triple was about $30 USD for a tiny room with shower & commode in the room. Second time through we again stayed at Cosmic, but got a new room. About same size as old, but nicer and the best shower I have ever been in - about 12-15 functions - odd, enjoyable). I planned on us staying in Chungking Mansion, but angry looking Arabs, loud talking Africans, and endless touts (about all we saw on the ground floor) were not inviting. A really great new feature of Chungking is that they have security guys making people line up for the hopelessly crowded elevators. Ate most breakfasts at dim sum place across Nathan Road and around the corner on Hankow Road; after we tired of dim sum, ate several semi-western breakfasts at Big John's near dim sum place. Walked all over the place. Bought a backpack for ~$12 USD at women's market - should have waited for Saigon, where name backpacks are available for fantastic prices (~$30-40 USD). Ate BBQ duck and pork at a number of places, rode ferry, went up Peak, walked all over the place.
First time through went from Bangkok to Poipet and from there (via taxi) to Battambang on advice of my friend Lance. I think this was much better than more common route of Poipet to Siem Reap and on to Phnom Penh. Poipet is a grim, dirty place. Battambang is very laid back, food great, no night life, just straight Khmer culture. In Battambang stayed in Angkor Hotel for ~$13 USD for triple with balcony overlooking river. Took 1st tour of my life - motos into the countryside - what a great tour! Ate mostly at White Rose Restaurant, which ties for best mango shake with Soi Buttri guy near Khao San Road in Bangkok. From Battambang, took boat up the river to Tonle Sap and across top of lake to landing near Siem Reap. In Siem Reap, stayed at Two Dragons Guesthouse ~$10 USD for double and $8 for single. Food at Two Dragons was excellent and expensive ~$3/e
ntree), but we were purchasing cleanliness as well as food, so no complaints there. Our first time through Phnom Penh we stayed at the Narin 2 GH and paid ~$12 for a triple with poor AC. Restaurant was pretty good. Went to Chhoeun Ek ("killing fields") and Tuol Sleng (torture facility) for a true bad trip. Really, Phnom Penh is the the most menacing place I have ever been outside of combat. Russian Market was good shopping. Took bus from Phnom Penh to Saigon - arrangements via Narin Guesthouse. Bus from Phnom Penh to border pretty basic; border to Saigon very nice. Photo: Angkor
Second time through Cambodia was via bus from Saigon. We stayed at Indochine 2 on the river - nicer hotel (~$12 for double), but more expensive neighborhood than Narin. Went back to Russian Market and bought some old and used things from Mrs. Khai Sreang at back of market and from a young man in same area. Took Bangkok Airways flight to Bangkok and then Thai Intl to Chiang Mai.
Several accounts (guidebooks and in Thorntree) of traveling in Vietnam are clear that Vietnam is not a good experience, e.g., on Thorntree one person wrote, "Vietnam sucks." To the contrary, we had a great time, encountered few beggars, were never scammed, and found most Vietnamese friendly and helpful.
First time through Saigon stayed at Ly Ly Hotel at 40/2 Bui Vien Street in Pham Ngu Lao area. Good value for ~12 triple. Very clean and quiet. We were only there for two nights (went back later for 5 nights) and then caught train to Danang. Took taxi from train station to Hoi An, where we stayed in Thanh Xuan hotel at edge of old area. Cost about $12 USD for triple room. AC worked okay, hot water good, internet bad news, best banana pancakes of the entire trip. Hoi An very nice (except could not find pho we liked very much) and beach was good. Got around by walking and bicycle. Took
Second time in Saigon we again stayed at Ly Ly in a $9 double - my favorite hotel/ guesthouse of the trip. While David and I were in Saigon, Jeff went back to Hill 55 area and again had a good experience. In Saigon I got deep into rice plates with pork chop for about $.50 USD - Alllright! David had pho 2-3 times/day. Big market about half a mile from Pham Ngu Lao area has great and cheap food area. Took bus from Saigon to Phnom Penh. Photo: Uptown Hotel - $5 backpacker basic room
Took bus from airport to Khao San Road and walked around the corner to Soi Buttri - much quieter than KSR. See Transpo for airport to KSR costs. Found AC triple at Merry V Guesthouse for $15 USD - good value room, good AC, nice waitresses, bad news otherwise. The two women running the place were unhelpful and usually unpleasant - the heavier of the two spent much of her time screeching - to the extent that we quit eating there. Took an outcry from travelers before the woman agreed (in a surly way) to show Wimbledon n finals over yet another lame movie. Saw very funky van arranged by Merry V travel agency -packed with hapless backpa
Discovered almost everything we needed was there at KSR area. Most meals cost about $1 - $2/person, except when eating street food - then about $1/person, e.g., pad Thai for 20 baht + 2 sticks satay for 5-10 baht each. The shake guy on Soi Buttri tied for best shakes of the tr
ip with White Rose Restaurant. Mr. Yim's place on the lane off the back of Soi Buttri (behind wat) had best breakfasts we found in the area. Chicken stand at back entrance
to wat had good grilled chicken + sticky rice, all for 30 baht. Satay and chicken remind me of Olongopo in 1966, except not as funky, not as crazy, and a lot more sober.
Chiang Mai was, as usual, really good. Stayed at Roong Ruang Hotel at 398 Thanon Tha Pae Road near Tha Pae Gate. Large double with great AC was about $12 USD. Food everywhere we ate was good. Best pad Thai of trip was at a street stand about a block from the hotel. Enjoyed the Time Thai Restaurant on Tha Pae Road near Roong Ruang - good food, decent coffee, good vibes, and AC. Night market not near as good as in past. Walking around was our main activity - very pleasant in this garden city.
Took day trip to Burma from Chiang Mai. Turned out to be a visa renewal trip for long stayers and what I thought would be 4 hour RT and 4 hours in Burma turned out to be 8 hour RT and 1 hour in Burma. Oops - but a scenic drive. Photo: Star Ferry, waiting for the ferry
Skipped many of the sites around Chiang Mai (and islands in southern Thailand) as I went to these in previous years and David and Jeff not all that keen on these places.
My home (click here for Cottage Garden)